Varcoe: Neo Financial’s move into the center is connected to the past and the technological future


Neo Financial CEO Andrew Chau hopes the company’s presence at the center, along with other technology companies, will accelerate society’s ability to attract top talent to the sector

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It only seems fitting that one of Calgary’s newest and fastest growing technology companies should expand into one of the most historic commercial buildings in the city center.

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Neo Financial will on Wednesday announce that it is moving into more than 110,000 square feet of office space in the core.

The company will soon occupy 62,000 square feet of converted empty retail space on the fourth floor of the venerable Hudson’s Bay building at 8th Avenue SW. It has also rented more than 50,000 square feet over three floors in the nearby Edison office tower on 9th Avenue SW

The Calgary-based fintech company has grown rapidly since its inception in 2019, with more than 400 employees and an additional 100 open job postings. It previously had offices in the East Village before it began moving workers into Edison.

Neo Financial CEO Andrew Chau hopes the company’s presence at the center, along with other technology companies, will accelerate society’s ability to attract top talent to the sector.

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“For us, it’s really about how we create this ecosystem – or what we like to call a campus for technology companies – so that we can essentially anchor it and build more things around it,” Chau said in an interview.

“When you think about Calgary and the direction we’re heading in, it’s really about being a catalyst for something much bigger.”

Neo Financial expects to move fully into its new space during the first quarter.

The company’s open workplace will be able to accommodate 800 workers between the two buildings with space for additional employment.

“It is a strong indication that the vacancies we have at the center may be filled by untraditional companies,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said in an interview.

“When we think of technology, it has such a (role to play) in so many different sectors. As a city trying to diversify its economy, it’s incredibly important that we stay focused.”

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The presence of Neo Financial and other technology companies at the core is a welcome sign of an area that is changing. Edison is already home to local technology companies, while the Hudson’s Bay building has been a central shopping center in the city for more than a century.

Built in 1913, the six-story structure was proclaimed to be the largest building in Calgary when it opened, becoming “the first of HBC’s original six modern flagship department stores,” according to the company’s website.

Now the face of brick and mortar retail in downtown Calgary is also becoming an essential part of the home ground of a burgeoning technology company.

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Neo Financial was started by Chau and Jeff Adamson – who both co-founded Winnipeg-based SkipTheDishes – and Kris Reid, and the company has raised $ 114 million in two rounds of financing since the end of 2020.

The Fintech company is offering a free Mastercard reward, and it went along with Hudson’s Bay Co. last year. to provide a store-branded credit card.

Although the company has ambitious plans for the future, it is a challenge for technology companies across North America to attract enough skilled workers.

Chau said operating downtown and being close to restaurants, shops, transit and housing will make it easier to lure potential workers to its campus, noting that more than half of the staff already live within cycling or walking distance from the offices.

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“When we think of the downtown area, it’s really about how we’re expanding from where we are today with 400 people to a team of over one, two, three thousand people, and it’s just Neo alone,” he added. he.

“When you can combine it with other companies that bring in hundreds of people, 50 people, even 10 people, you start creating these natural collisions that, from an innovation point of view, start to become really valuable.”

Neo Financial CEO Andrew Chau was photographed at the company's offices in Calgary on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.
Neo Financial CEO Andrew Chau was photographed at the company’s offices in Calgary on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia

The center of Calgary has struggled fiercely with high vacancy rates and falling rents since oil prices fell last decade. There were 32 fewer headquarters in the city last year than in 2016 amid the consolidation of the energy industry.

Downtown office buildings lost $ 1.1 billion in value over the past year, according to new city valuation data, though the technology sector remains a growth area. A report from Alberta Enterprise Corp. last year showed that 1,627 technology companies were based in the city, more than double the number in 2018.

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Several companies have begun to take up significant amounts of office space in the central business district, such as Symend and mCloud Technologies Corp., which moved its headquarters to Calgary from Vancouver and recently rented two floors of Stephen Avenue Place.

“Many of the companies we saw a year or two ago that were just getting started have started to become tangible companies with hundreds of employees and a potential path to over 1,000 employees,” said Secretary of Labor and Economy Doug Schweitzer.

The rapid development of companies such as Benevity, Neo Financial, Symend and Shareworks by Morgan Stanley highlights the importance of Calgary’s technology sector in promoting future employment.

Such firms operating in the immediate vicinity of the center should begin to create a kind of “hive effect” based on each other’s strengths, said Brad Parry, interim president of Calgary Economic Development.

“It’s a harbinger of the future,” he said.

At Neo Financial, Chau expects growth to continue in 2022. And with a new corporate base, he expects it to be part of Calgary’s center transformation.

“One of the reasons we chose to build Neo here was to really go against the flow,” he added.

“We wanted to disrupt the banking sector and build something from scratch… Calgary was a perfect place for it. And it has the talent and the culture to do it.”

Chris Varcoe is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

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